When Tito Ortiz pulled out of this past season of The Ultimate Fighter, finding a replacement was a no-brainer for the UFC brass.
Rich Franklin stepped up to the plate, as he almost always does.
Franklin is a self-described company man, and if you look at his history he certainly lives up to that description.
There are two things that separate Franklin from the rest of the UFC's rosters when it comes to being a friend of the company:
1. He's always been willing to do whatever the UFC has asked of him.
2. He's been propped up as the UFC's example of an educated and respectful mixed martial artist.
What Rich Franklin Has Done For The UFC
Before Franklin ever replaced Ortiz on TUF, he had already shown his loyalty and willingness to do whatever the UFC needed him to do. That list of requests includes coaching on TUF, changing weight classes and taking fights.
Franklin had gone on the record as saying that he didn't feel any real desire to coach on TUF again, as he'd already been a coach during Season Two. But despite not having any real desire to coach on TUF, Franklin still stepped up to replace Ortiz and was willing to coach on TUF 9 opposite Michael Bisping, had he defeated Dan Henderson at UFC 93.
Franklin's weight class movement has been well-documented, and little of it has been a result of Franklin's personal desires.
After he lost to Anderson Silva for the second time, there was some real concern within the UFC management that Franklin was no longer good for the middleweight division.
Joe Rogan says in UFC hype videos that he believes Franklin is better at 205, where he doesn't need to cut as much weight. But the truth is that the concern of Dana White and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva wasn't that Franklin wasn't good enough for 185 pounds, but rather that he was too good .
The UFC management was worried that if Franklin stayed at 185 pounds he would be out there knocking off potential title contenders that the UFC needed to match up against Anderson Silva.
Since Franklin had already lost twice to Silva, it would simply be bad business to let him stick around at 185, knocking off Silva's potential challengers. Because of this, the UFC brass asked Franklin to move up to 205 pounds.
Even when Franklin moved up to 205 pounds at the request of the UFC, Franklin's weight class movement wasn't done yet.
When Wanderlei Silva needed to drop down to 185 pounds, Franklin was asked to drop down to a catchweight of 195 pounds to help ease the transition for Silva. At the time, Franklin was still trying to put on extra weight in order to be competitive with the 205 pounders, but he agreed to the UFC's request, and did it again for Vitor Belfort.
It may seem strange to say that a fighter is doing the UFC a favor by simply taking fights, but in the case for Franklin, I think it applies—both because of his fight frequency and fight locations.
Before UFC 103, Franklin was already feeling worn down after wars against Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson. Nevertheless, Franklin stepped up to face Vitor Belfort because the UFC needed somebody to fill the vacant headlining spot.
Most UFC main event fighters prefer to fight in North America where their pay-per-view bonuses are usually higher, and they can avoid unwanted things like jet-lag and other general inconveniences.
Among UFC headliners, Franklin is one of the few guys who has fought repeatedly on European cards; he faced Yushin Okami, Wanderlei Silva, and Dan Henderson in Belfast, Cologne, and Dublin respectively.
Consider that in comparison to UFC stars Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Georges St. Pierre, who have never fought in Europe through a combined 73 fights (as a caveat, it should be mentioned that in some cases, guys like St. Pierre are not used in Europe because it's perceived as a waste of their PPV drawing potential, as European cards historically draw in weaker numbers).
How Rich Franklin Has Been An Example And Ambassador For The UFC
Part of the reason Franklin has been used in foreign countries and new markets is because he is a good ambassador for the sport.
As mixed martial arts has grown, the UFC has continually had to fight the perception that its fighters are nothing more than glorified barroom brawlers.
Franklin is a perfect ambassador for the sport because he is a well-spoken, clean cut, All-American type who can reference his background as an educated man and represent the sport not as a prize fighter, but as a professional athlete.
As such, Franklin has been in new markets like Ireland, Germany, Montreal and Vancouver talking about how he used to be a math teacher and has now become a professional athlete.
Such a role is nothing new for Franklin. Back when he was middleweight champion, he was one of the UFC's chosen spokesman (along with Joe Rogan) whenever the company needed to defend itself against people trying to characterize mixed martial arts as a brutal sport.
An example of this is when conservative talking head Bill O'Reilly tried to demonize mixed martial arts and its fighters. Rich Franklin was the guy the UFC called upon to help represent a positive view of the sport.
What Will Be Rich Franklin's Lasting Legacy?
Rich Franklin was not as dominant a champion as guys like Chuck Liddell, Anderson Silva, Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre. Despite that, he still owns an impressive 12-4 record in the UFC, and he has only lost to champions and former world champions.
Because of that, I think Dana White is justified in saying that Franklin is one of the most underrated fighters in the sport.
Add that on to what he's done for the UFC both in terms of favors and his role as an ambassador, and I think it's clear that he'll eventually find his way into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Here's an old video of Franklin defending the sport of mixed martial arts opposite Bill O'Reilly.